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No Need for Freaking Out About Egyptian Electoral Outcome

In the wake of the news that “Islamists” have won the first round of the Egyptian elections, I’ve seen a lot of lazy writing from people who know better. They’re either saying that this proves revolutions don’t work or offering some light fearmongering about scary Mooslims.

Let’s look at this more closely. First, “Islamist” is a made-up word. Anyone who follows Islam, apparently, is an Islamist. Egypt is an Islamic country. There’s no surprise whatsoever that a culturally conservative party like the Muslim Brotherhood with a 20-year head start in organizing over every other party in the race would capture a plurality of votes in the first round of polling – a fact left out of most of the freak-outs, there are months and months to go in the Egyptian elections. Moderate Islamists took elections in Morocco and Tunisia as well, so this isn’t evidence of some failure of the revolution, but an obvious cultural and political shift.

Second, the Muslim Brotherhood is the more moderate of the so-called “Islamist” parties in Egypt. The hardline Salafists finished well back, although they did better than expected. And it was the Egyptian Bloc, a coalition of liberal parties, which ended up in second, despite having no experience in politics and dealing with snap elections against a far better organized opponent.

Third, I don’t think there’s any need for knee-jerk fear of the Muslim Brotherhood. We simply don’t have that level of analysis yet to understand what’s going on. Here’s Issandr El Amrani with his take. He says that the Salafists are the bigger concern, but that the Muslim Brotherhood has a choice to make:

The first choice the Muslim Brothers have to face (if they do not have a majority alone) is either to rally Islamists around them or try and create a broader coalition, as they have indicated over the summer they would prefer. It’s also a choice for those parties that, in a sense, ran specifically against the Brothers. They have to decide whether pragmatism should trump whatever incompatibilities exist.

Among my Egyptian friends (most decidedly on the liberal side) there is now tremendous worry about a future in which politics is ruled on the one hand by identitarian Islamist politics and on the other by a populist, hyper-nationalistic army. I don’t think it has to be so, and we could very well see a transition to a democratic (but not liberal) system which allows for rotation of power. Liberals now also have to make some tough choices about consolidating their presence, making alliances with both Islamists and people associated with the former ruling party. (And never mind the regional impact of this election, the subject of a future post.)

In the end, this seems to be mainly a factor of a well-organized group defeating a loose coalition thrown together at the last minute. Liberal democratic types in Egypt have to play catch-up. Revolutions may happen overnight, but the aftermath takes years. This is definitely a don’t mourn, organize moment.

For a far better take on the outcome, check Thomas P. Barnett. And Matt Yglesias has a good piece on the economics of Egypt.

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